Thursday, 10 December 2015

The Sallet and armour of Sir John Walsh d1468

Quite a few years ago I visited a church in Warwickshire so that I could photograph the two effigies within. 

Meriden is situated in Warwickshire, north of Kenilworth and is landmarked as the Centre of England.   Just East of the village on the top of a hill is the church of St. Laurence, within its walls are the two effigies of Sir John Wyard, c1404 and reputedly Sir John Walsh d1468.

Sir John Wyard’s effigy is attributed to the London school of Carvers and is made from alabaster quarried in Derbyshire.   The armour is typical for the period with jupon and basinet, (see Sir Fulke de Pembrugge) but has one interesting feature in the positioning of the belt which is situated at the waistline instead of the more usual hips. (I will look at this effigy in a later Blog)

Above. right. Sir John Wyard c1404

The effigy of Sir John Walsh

The second effigy is made from sandstone and as such has suffered some deterioration; although inferior in quality to the Wyard’s effigy it is interesting in that the helmet is of a sallet design. This design was common during the period we know as the War of the Roses. The development of the Great basinet (see Tong) had almost come to an end during the mid 15th century and its use had been relegated to the joust. Its inability to move with the head had made it redundant in battle and what was needed was something less bulky.

Effigy of Sir John Walsh

 In Italy and Germany the sallet and bevor had been popular for quite some time, the bevor, which protected the neck, allowed the helmet to move independently, and with the addition of a visor the wearer could breath more easily.

The helmet used on the Walsh effigy has a bevor and raised visor, it also has very large decorative rivets around its base.

The naive style of Sir John’s effigy leads me to believe the sculptor was a local mason, more used to creating church adornments or gargoyles than creating life size figures dressed in armour.

It seems unlikely that a local stone mason would have access to any form of patterns that might be used in place of a suit of armour. It is equally likely that he would not be an expert on the construction of armour and as such would probably need a harness or at least part of one to sculpt from.
This point of interest leads me to believe that most if not all of the details on Sir John’s armour are accurate. The fact that the carving is naive should not detract us from what the sculptor saw and tried to reproduce in sandstone.
 Sabatons and Greaves.
Sabatons and spurs

Sir John’s greaves are plain in construction with little detail carved, the ankle is formed to take the shape of the spur and the shape of the leg can be seen. No hinge or strap details are visible.
The sabatons, Which rest on a splendid lion that retains some colour, are pointed and constructed from a series of V shaped lames that are hinged at the base of each lame, an ankle plate is visible.
Spurs are again simple in shape and have an unadorned strap with a square buckle. The rowel is not clearly formed which is not surprising due to the nature of the material that the effigy is carved from.


Tassets’, cuisse and poleyn.

The cuisses’ on Sir John’s effigy are of plain and unadorned construction. At the uppermost point a turned, rolled edge can be seen, which would have been vital not only for comfort but also protection.
The upper inner thigh has a vulnerable artery that runs between the leg and the groin. At this point a cut from a sharp blade would be fatal and the need to protect the leg at this point and not cause any accidental cuts from the cuisse caused the armourers to form a rolled edge. 
This roll is constructed by hammering the edge over and turning it back on itself. In some cases a wire strip was placed between the fold before it was closed up thus causing a strong edge that held its shape.
The poleyns’ are constructed from four plates consisting of a cup; a narrow upper and lower lame and a further larger pointed lower lame.
   The cup has a wing that is scalloped in shape and three rivets can be seen, two for articulation of the lames and a centre one for fixing the leather joining straps.
Sir John’s two tassets are rectangular in shape with a central ridge and a shaped bottom edge that forms three points. Each tasset is fixed to the lower lame of the fauld via two buckled straps, (the buckles appear to be square shaped).  A central lame is fastened to the fauld between the tassets giving more protection to the groin.
 The idea of using tassets to protect the join from leg to body had only been feasible with the full development of the lower part of the breastplate or fauld. Early Tassets had been extensions added to the bottom of the fauld, but in Sir John’s day the tasset had become a separate part of the armour.
Many shapes and forms of tasset can be seen in existing armours, with decorative fluting that matched the popular Gothic style. Plainer versions can be seen on Italian armours.
 Right Poleyns 
The pauldrons’ on Sir John’s effigy display a series of nine lames that curve around the shoulder and upper arm, the arm section being made from three V shaped lames.
The shoulder lames fall diagonally and are riveted at the lowest point front and rear.
The lame nearest the neck has a rolled edge to allow freedom of movement over the bevor.
During the mid fifteenth century the pauldron became separate from the upper cannon and was usually laced to the arming jack. Better flexibility was obtained and as such the lames that made up the piece became longer expanding across the chest at the front and shoulder blades at the rear. The pauldron could protect the armpit even with the arm lifted high. This method of protection relied on the articulation of each lame (Via rivets) and making sure the piece extended far enough over the cuirass to not get caught on the breastplate. (I have seen many modern re-enactment armours that have got this measurement wrong, to the consternation of the wearer who is constantly unhooking the pauldron from the armhole of his breastplate after lifting his arm).

The couter consists of an elbow cup and three upper and lower lames, the shape is a little old fashioned as it would have been more common to have a separate couter that laced onto the elbow using points made from leather.
The upper and lower cannon have no detail but due to the nature of the couter were probably riveted to it.

 The gauntlets are semi mittens having a large plate covering the back of the hand, this plate is shaped into a point at the front and when the hand was clenched this point extended over the knuckles making a formidable weapon if used in a fist fight. The cuff is short and also ends in a point. The fingers would have been covered with a series of lames, but again due to the easily eroded sandstone their true form cannot be seen.

Sallet and neck protection
In England the sallet became most popular from the mid 15th century onwards. Prior to this the great basinet had taken preference, but it did not take long to realise the restrictive qualities of the design. The armet was an alternative but this also enclosed the head and face and in some cases restricted breathing. The sallet however offered the wearer the ability to lift not only a visor but also the whole helmet so that it rested on the back of the head in the same manner as a Grecian helmet. It left the neck free to move in any direction and with the addition of a bevor, which protected the lower half of the face and neck, the wearer was completely protected.
My illustration of Sir John Walsh in his effigy armour.

Various effigies that display this style of helmet can be seen across the country, but most effigy makers from the period chose to sculpt a bare head, the reason for this was probably the age old problem of showing the face within the helmet. Sir John’s sallet is shown with the visor raised, which has caused the sculptor some problem in showing the occularium and as such he has chosen to flatten the visor rather than sculpting the fragile extension on the beak of the visor.
Around the helmet can be seen decorative rivets that would have held the lining in place and below this a decorative strip can be seen running around the edge of the helmet.
The neck and chin are protected by either a high sided bevor or a mail hood and mantel. It is unclear by looking at the effigy, which is sculpted, but it is more likely that a high standing knight would have worn a bevor.

Effigy of Sir John. Note the belt around the waist.

Development of the salletIn England the sallet became most popular from the mid 15th century onwards. Prior to this, the great bascinet had taken preference, but it did not take long to realise the restrictive qualities of the design. The armet was an alternative but this also enclosed the head and face and in some cases restricted breathing. The sallet however offered the wearer the ability to lift not only a visor but also the whole helmet so that it rested on the back of the head in the same manner as a Grecian helmet. It left the neck free to move in any direction and with the addition of a bevor, which protected the lower half of the face and neck, the wearer was completely protected.

Various effigies that display this style of helmet can be seen across the country, but most effigy makers from the period chose to sculpt a bare head, the reason for this was probably the age old problem of showing the face within the helmet.

The sallet first appeared very early in the 15th century. Its evolution appears to have begun from two distinct starting points, the kettle hat and the bascinet.

The kettle hats evolution began far back in time and its origin can be seen in Greek Boetian helmets from the 3rd century BC.  Its method of construction was comparatively simple, being a single sheet of metal beaten over a former.  True kettle hats can be seen in 13th century artwork and for two hundred years this form of helmet remained popular with foot soldiers.  During the early 15th Century the kettle hat becomes a contender to the bascinet (see A) and was worn by foot soldiers and nobility alike.   With the addition  of a deeper rim and eye slots (See B) the kettle hats transformation into the Sallet became inevitable.   This style of helmet could be pulled down over the eyes during battle but left the lower part of the face and neck unprotected, a deeper skull with a smaller rim protected the head more successfully (See C).

During the mid 15th century a series of plates that independently protected the neck and chin known as a Bevor completed the sallets evolution (See D).

At the same time that the kettle hat was evolving, the bascinets shape changed to follow a similar transformation.   The popularity of the bascinet with the higher orders waned in the 15th century with the use of armour piercing bodkins and  increased fighting on foot rather than on horse.   The nobility discarded their bascinets in favor of the Great bascinet and it was the archers who took up the old bascinets removing  the visor and mail aventail (See E). This unencumbered helmet could move freely and with a shortening of the sides a simple sallet was made (See F).   This form of helmet was popular in Italy and would, with the addition of a visor and bevor,  become the true sallet.

The Barbute (See G), although not a sallet must also feature in its evolution. Its shape has far more in common with  the bascinet with its long sides and back but its true origin lies in the early discoveries of Greek helmets during the Italian Renaissance.

The Sallet remained popular throughout the 15th century. Its two lines of evolution maintaining its popularity with the nobility and common foot soldier alike.  In Germany it gained high status with the advent of the gothic style and laminated tails were added for extra protection of the neck. The shape was even incorporated into jousting harness.

In Italy the sallet followed the rounded forms of the Milanese style and large elaborate rivets were used as decoration. Some sallets were covered in velvet whilst others were painted with coats of arms or fantastical beasts.

In England the sallet became popular and examples can be seen in Coventry and Lichfield museums. An unusual example can be seen in the Royal Armouries (Originaly in Pluckly Church Kent (See H) that incorporates a fixed bevor that is similar to a close-helmets chin protection.  This helmet is similar to the one worn by Sir John Walsh in Warwickshire.

Lesser knights being unwilling to part with expensive armour must have employed local smiths to convert helmets and many sallets may have started life as another helmet being added to and changed to follow fashion.

Photographs of extant Sallets can be seen on my pinterest page click yellow link below

Link to my illustration of The charge of Richard III at Bosworth.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Unusual Effigy Helmet. St. Lawrence Church Gnosall Staffordshire.

Unknown Knight  with unusual helmet. Authors illustration taken from the original effigy 

The Church   
Gnosall is situated west of Stafford on the A518; The church is largely 12th & 13th century with later additions. I visited it over ten years ago and took some interesting photographs of the effigy within.

There is one effigy wearing armour within the church, the true identity of whom is unknown. Two likely candidates are put forward in the church guide. Sir William Banestre and Sir John Knightly both lived and owned land in the area and can be dated alive in the mid 14th to early 15th century. Sir John being recorded as dying in 1413 seems the most likely candidate.
A similar effigy (In style and construction) at Kinver in Staffordshire has been attributed to the Chellaston workshops Derbyshire. It is likely that this effigy was made at the same workshop.

The Unknown effigy 15th c
 The effigy has been badly damaged over the years, its original chest being destroyed it is now re-mounted on slabs. The feet, hands and arms are missing and the legs are badly broken, but as we shall see this unassuming effigy can claim some truly unique attributes.
The armour is a standard design for the 1410’s. Plates cover the legs and arms. A round breastplate can be seen beneath the tight fitting jupon and a pair of besagews’ can be seen at the armpits.   The sabatons are badly damaged at the toes, but enough survives to compare them with those of Sir John de Bermingham at St Martins church, Birmingham, which dates from 1390, both being very similar in design.   The hands are missing but may have been bare as fragments of what look like gauntlet still survive at the side of the sword belt.
 It is at the neck and head that the effigy becomes totally unique and original. The standard aventail and bascinet, which is so common on most effigies from this period is missing and in its place a collar of mail, known as Pizaine or colliere, falls from the neck down to the chest, (The edge being dagged).

The second outstanding feature to be seen is the orle, which surrounds the bare head. This commonly seen decoration on the basinet is seen here serving its original purpose, that is, to protect the head from the helmet.
The last and most remarkable part of this monument is the helmet. A form of great bascinet, it is unusually placed at the side of the head and is almost certainly unique, having a visor that is in-situ and of a design not familiar at this period.

Foot and Leg protection
The sabatons are heavily damaged, which makes it difficult to assess what form they take, it would seem that they consist of an upper plate that reaches from the ankle to the toe, this would have been riveted to a series of lames to allow articulation of the foot. A similar sabaton can be seen on Sir John de Bermingham in St Martin’s church in Birmingham. This sabaton has a rectangular top plate that covers the top of the foot; to this four short lames are connected running vertically down the side of the foot. Four further lames run across the articulated area of the toes and a pointed toecap is connected to the end.
At the ankle two or possibly three lames run horizontally around the back of the foot (the upper being hidden by the spur).

Right: the broken sabaton.

A gap between the sabaton and greave reveals mail breeches.
The Greave has no visible hinges or buckles and as such could consist of two plates with hidden hinges on the outer face, held together by studs on the inner face. Or, it is possible that with the development of strengthened, sprung steel, the greave is a single tube, similar to Sir Fulke de Pembrugge’s.
The cuisse and poleyn have been broken in two, possibly during the civil war but enough detail remains to assess the construction.
The cuisse consists of two plates hinged at the outer thigh and fastened around the rear of the leg with leather straps. Two lames connect to the poleyn via rivets.
The poleyns take the form of a cup with the upper lames as stated and two lower lames covering the top of the greave. No sign of straps can be seen on these lames but a large rivet can be seen on the inner face of the poleyn. This rivet would be used to fix the leather strap and buckle that held the poleyn in place.
On the outer face of the poleyn is a large round plate or rondal. This plate was connected to the poleyn by a rivet, which would have also held the other half of the leather-fixing strap.
The edges of all plate on the leg are decorated with brass or latern strips, these strips are usually decorated with engraved patterns, but in this case they are plain.

The body and arm protection. Also the Knights head garments.
The body armour consists of a mail hauberk that is covered by a breast and backplate, the bulge of the plate being easily seen due to the destruction of the lower arms and hands.
A jupon covers the armour and is dagged with semi circles at the base.
Around the waist and hips hangs the sword belt and horizontal belt of plates. The sword belt is approximately 2.5 cm in width but is severely damaged especially at the point of connection to the scabbard. The horizontal belt has square raised plaquarts with flower and pearl decoration within. The buckle is an enlarged plate with a heater shaped shield formed in the centre, the presence of a heraldic emblem on the shield is too worn to see.
The sword has been destroyed and unfortunately the gauntlets which would have been hanging over the grip are also too damaged to make any assessment on design.
The lower arms and hands are missing but enough remains of the rerebrace, couter and spaudler to determine construction.  The elbow protection or couter consists of a cup with three lames connecting to the vambrace each edged with a decorative strip. Three further lames connect to the rerebrace. A round plate is riveted to the couter. The rerebrace is constructed from two plates, hinged along the outer face; with a decorative strip on the outer plate presumably two hide the hinges. On the inner face can be seen two buckles which were used to hold the plates together.
The spaudler consists of a shoulder plate and two lames connecting to the rerebrace, fixed to this is a circular plate or besagew. This plate hung freely and moved with the arm, the idea being that it would protect the vulnerable armpit.
The destruction of the feet, arms, gauntlets and sword are all unfortunate casualty of time, but the head and helmet more than makes up for this damage. It is amazing when one thinks how vulnerable this effigy has been that the most striking parts still remain.

The head is strikingly carved with a short-cropped hairstyle and clean-shaven face.
The neck and shoulders are protected by a mail Mantle or pizaine that is edged with a leather strap at the top. This form of protection was diminishing with the advent of the great basinet and its gorget.
Around the head is a role of material or orle. In this unusual case I can see no functional reason for it to be worn other than as a fashion statement. One hundred years earlier it would have been used to protect the head from the helm. Fifty years earlier it would have been placed between the basinet and the helm. But with the development of lined padded helmets its use had become purely decorative and was usually found on the bascinet or as part of the crest and mantle on a helm. I know of no other English effigy from this period that has this feature and can only speculate on the reason for it being used.

The Great Bascinet
The bascinet, placed by the side of the head, is unusual and possibly unique for the period. Earlier and European effigies had displayed helmets at the side of the figure, but I have not encountered any from this era, and more importantly, of this design.

Above: Representation of the great basinet. Authors painting.

The skull section is shaped like a standard bascinet of the period. A ridge runs down the front, which is extended onto the visor. The rear of the helmet is plain and at the base is a patterned strap. It is not clear what this strap was made from but possibilities include (a) decorative brass, to be used to cover vervelle rivet holes that were no longer in use. And (b) A leather-fixing strap, used to hold a visor or re-enforce plate in place.

Left: The rear of the bascinet showing the decorated strap.
At the base of the helmet is a gorget that protects the neck. When worn, the helmet would have rested on the mail pizaine. A buckle can be seen at the base of the gorget that would have been used to fasten the helmet to the breastplate.
The shape of this helmet is not standard for this period, most helmets having either bulbous or pointed visors. The closest comparison I can find is from a contemporary source being a 15th century book illustration. Some comparisons have been made with the armet, (a later design). The helmet is unusual compared with others from the period.

The carver has taken some time to create the shape and form of this helmet and then to decorate the unusual strap that runs around the rear. The gorget is clearly seen at the front but damage to the back of the helmet has destroyed its true form.

Close up of strap around rear of helmet.

Above: A 15th century tournament showing similar helmets. Note the rondals’ on the leg of the left knight and the arm of the right knight Authors drawing

There is no doubt that the carver has seen an actual helmet of this design. Its individuality and unusual positioning would have created considerably more work for him. With this in mind, whoever did commission the work has left us a truly unique insight into early 15th century helmet design.